A Grace That Overwhelms Me

“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”

― Brennan Manning

Perhaps there are a few things we need to more fully grasp. There is a real and definite, ‘life of grace.’ And it’s a whole lot more than a polished niceness or an agreeable congeniality.  It is Grace, and when you do connect with it, it’s like touching a bare wire. The first time— don’t be surprised if it throws across the room– figuratively speaking.

There is a special perception of grace.  We must locate it and then live off its fatness. One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott wrote,

“I do not understand the mystery of grace –” only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

After just several sentences of writing this post, I simply come to this same place.  I know precisely what grace is (but I can’t tell you.) I would like to, very very much. It simply is beyond a definition, and yet, I can tell you it is real. When you reach out and grab it, you suddenly realize that you have been ‘taken apart,’ and then reassembled in a changed way.

Manning talks about “acknowledging my whole life story.” There are very dark times, times when we promoted and revelled in our personal evil. I can tell you of many things in my own behavior that would curl your hair, or demand justice be done.

But the ‘light-part’ needs to be recognized.  It does exist. But unquestionably I have done much more evil than good. On my knees recently, I’ve realized I have committed more sin as a believer— than I ever did in my darkness, before Christ. I was completely overwhelmed.

As I get familiar with my evil, it really schools me. It drops me into God’s classroom of grace. He tutors me, over and over. I learn of mercy, and grace, love and kindness. All which can only be decrypted by one simple word, “undeserved.” If you know that single word, heaven itself will open up like a golden sardine can.

But all of it pivots on grace.  Grace was the total reason it all happened like it did.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV

“You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us—in one stroke he became poor and we became rich.”  The Message

One more thing: Sometimes we need a dramatic change in our perception of the truth. What I mean is this. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we’re often drawn to more systematic and theological specifics. We want to read all about—

  • End Times,
  • the Trinity,
  • the doctrine of healing/tongues,
  • the proper formula to speak at baptism,
  • women in ministry, and the like.

This is all well and good. We need to understand the fundamentals. Doctrine is important.

But just maybe what we really should do is think about—

  • forgiveness,
  • kindness,
  • servanthood,
  • faithfulness,
  • evangelism,
  • prayer

We often make small things big, and big things small.  We really should understand the ‘density’ of things spiritual. Let’s put our discipleship into perspective. To study something out isn’t the same as seeking God’s face, and grace.

Grace is one of those things for us; it is quite “amazing.” In it is such beauty and perfection— men could never, ever dream it up. It’s like an ocean where a child can splash, and yet it’s depths are still unfathomed and unexplored. God’s grace, in its truest sense, is eternally profound.

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What’s the Role of God’s Word in the Fight Against Depression?

SPIRITUAL BROMIDE OR FUEL FOR THE SOUL?

Years ago, in a public venue, I extolled the value of wielding God’s Word as a weapon against depression. Before I finished my comments, a listener blurted out, “That’s oversimplification of a complex condition! You think you can cure depression by flinging a Bible verse at it? That’s totally unrealistic.”

If he had allowed me to finish, he would have heard my comment in its larger context.

When I tout God’s Word as a weapon against depression, I’m not saying that depression suddenly evaporates when I read the Bible or ponder a verse I’ve memorized. I’m not saying that having regular devotions in the Bible will forestall the onset of depressive episodes. I’m not advocating the neglect of medical or psychological treatment, nor other resources of the Spirit, such as fellowship and prayer. But I am saying that anchoring myself in God’s Word is nonetheless integral to my endurance. In particular, the promises of Scripture keep me from giving up and yielding to the despair.

In Future Grace, John Piper emphasizes that “wherever despondency comes from, Satan paints with a lie. The lie says, ‘You will never be happy again. You will never be strong again. You will never have vigor and determination again. Your life will never again be purposeful. There is no morning after this night. No joy after weeping. All is gathering gloom, darker and darker.’”

When I’m bombarded with a similar message of hopelessness, I buttress my faith with verses that combat Satan’s lies, such as these words from Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Another buoyant promise that keeps me from drowning in discouragement is Nahum 1:7: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him.”

No matter how I’m feeling, I strive to cling to a right view of God, as depicted in these words from Isaiah 30:18: “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion.”

I can’t prevent an onset of despondency by memorizing Scripture, but I can shorten its stay and minimize its effects by focusing on God: Who He is, what He has done for me, and what He has pledged Himself to do.

The author of Psalm 73:26 also fought despair by riveting his attention on truth about God. He acknowledged weakness and despondency with these words: “My flesh and my heart may fail.” But he refused to yield to discouragement. He battled back by telling himself, “But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

An occasional effect of depression in relation to my work is the inability to feel God’s presence as I prepare for and teach classes at Columbia International University. That’s when I lock my mental lens on Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Like the Psalmist, I “preach to myself,” or engage in biblical self-talk. I remind myself that He is with me whether or not I feel His presence. I tell myself that God’s Word, which promises His presence, is far more reliable than my fickle feelings that question His presence.

When I go to Scripture, does the depression magically evaporate? No, yet I work with renewed confidence and vigor, and take the next step rather than yielding to despair.

I don’t give in to the urge to cancel classes or quit because I don’t feel God’s presence. I wield God’s Word because no matter what causes my depression, I still have a spiritual battle to fight. Will I believe the hopeless message that permeates my mind when I’m depressed or will I believe what God says that puts my current despair in the context of eternity and His character?

When has the Lord sustained you through His written Word?

your brother,

Terry

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.

 

 

Suffering Intelligently

 

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There are many difficult ‘places’

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

James 1:2-4, NLT

There are many different points where our Lord connects to us through our desperation. Our sorrow and confusion can be how God ‘wires us’ for additional contact— in some kind of weird and cosmic way, my pain becomes His ‘copper wire.’ This often is how He touches my heart as He flows through it.

It is helpful to see our issues in this way.  There is a current that must work through us, making contact and ultimately to create a circuit. What I mean by this is that it seems we have to experience pain, in order to know His presence.  Only if you know that a brother has struggled, do you become aware that a tremendous wisdom (and love) is now accompanying him.

We must be aware that our distress allows us access to His ‘careful’ grace. Our trials, properly received, endow us with a special and supplemental power.

When it gets dark, any light becomes exceptional.  In a book by Stephen Lawhead, (I think it was “the Silver Hand.”) we see a man, the hero take up stones which have been infused the creative power of the universe.  Standing on the walls of a besieged stronghold, the desperate hero throws the stones down on the attackers.  And as each stone smashes into the ground it releases a part of a song, which destroys the enemy, and defeats those strong in the darkness. (Silly story.)

His Spirit infuses into our hearts.  He has imparted something in us that is both precious and powerful.  He works through the pain and struggles that we encounter.  These are terribly ugly, no question.  But it is through these we plug into something real and eternal. I suppose when the tragic finally brings real life it’s a most precious thing. We treasure all this for it comes at such an exorbitant price.

Pain indeed has a purpose, but oh, many times it seems to only hurt.

But yet, that is our calling. I certainly know that life is seldom easy and our choices are even harder. I recently read that Queen Victoria, as just a teen fiercely opposed her future coronation as the sovereign of England. She grew sullen, rebellious and would continually frustrate her teachers.

Only once when Victoria was shown a lineage that showed her and revealed her place in England’s future as queen.  She became uncharacteristically quiet and she responded with an astonishing simple awareness, “I will be good.” From that moment everything changed for her.

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We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.

Elizabeth Elliot

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